An outstanding biography of one of the great figures of 20th Century history. I hesitated before embarking on this substantial tome. Broadly aware of DeGaulle's place and role in the scheme of things, I struggled to imagine that a comprehensive biography would hold my interest, I was wrong.
That it did is down to the consummate writing skills of author Jonathan Fenby. An acknowledged authority on France in general. and DeGaulle in particular, Fenby's obvious enthusiasm for his subject oozes out of the text in an account authoritatively, but lightly told, account. Anecdote and vignettes, of which there are many always entertain, never distract and always compliment the narrative.
The Free French years and Algerian Crisis are covered triumphantly, but Fenby's skill is that he is as comfortable with his grasp of geo-political intrigue as he is with DeGaulle's love for his handicapped daughter. By common consent a difficult and infuriating man his unequal struggle with an exasperated Roosevelt is painfully recounted, as is his love hate relationship with Churchill.
The conflicts integral within a man who believed himself to be the saviour of his own vision of France, who nonetheless had to trim and negotiate and come to terms with a country marginalised by the outcome of the second world war are brilliantly exposed. The result is not only a definitive document of DeGaulle's life, but a fine example of how good biography should be written. Detail is always given for a purpose, and within context, not to impress the reader.
Not only is this essential reading for those interested in the man, it is also a vital and fresh insight into France's role in the Second World War. The Vichy regime is covered from inception to fall, the Free French from cradle to triumph. DeGaulles struggle to reassert French pride post war is painful in parts, embodied by Colonial decline and the Algerian Crisis. The only minor disappointment is that DeGaulles lack of involvement means that the Vietnam War does not get the time that I am sure Fenby would have liked to devote to it.